Saturday, March 19, 2005


You couldn't tell it by looking it this blog, but I'm an avid street photographer.

Against all real reason I am also still a bit of a technophobe, and my photography is all film, black-and-white, lots of time and dark rooms and smelly chemicals.

In anycase, I have a great story to share with you.

The other day I had a midday meeting in Shinjuku, and, waking up to a starkly bright March morning, decided to make a street photopraphy day of it, starting among the pachinko parlors and sex clubs of Ikebukuro, and slowly moving down backstreets to the churning center of Tokyo, Shinjuku. The morning was promising enough, I snapped up a few shots of a ring of police cars and bystanders at the spot of a brawl that took place amid the hordes of folks lined up for the slot machine parlors to open at ten AM. The cops chased me away.

Trees wrapped in plastic, the way old men link their hands in the small of their back waiting for the light to turn green. I was starting to get the street photo high, when you shoot without thinking, looking for the way people move and trying to see the photos ten seconds before they happen. You are Weegee! Cartier-Bresson! The visual poet of this crazy modern age!

It was at the peak of that moment, stalking down a Mejiro back alley, when I heard a voice call my name.

I turned around to come face-to-face with the husband of an old co-worker, moving some boxes into the service entrance of a building. We clasped hands warmly and laughed a bit about the chances of running into each other in this city of 25 million. "By the way," he asked, "are you interested in taking a tour?" This was the rear entrance, you see, to Tokyo's seven story music box museum.

He whisked me through his workshop of antique mechanical music boxes in various stages of repair to the clean and sunny front desk, where an elegant woman wearing a clean craftsman's apron and white gloves started my personal tour of antique music boxes. I had fallen straight through the looking glass to a 19th century wonderland, a repository of fantasies clothed in elegant oak and maple boxes. Some had grand disks that turned on springwound motors, warm old melodies from another age. Some were cylinders that spun and struck rows of metal teeth, arias coming out clear as the music of the spheres, pure geometry in sound. There was a doll perched on a chair who winked and tipped his hat to a sprightly forgotten tune. There was a mechanical orchestra in a fine oak trunk, bells, chimes, a small drum and the elfin sound of those metal teeth singing the delights of the 19th century. At the end of the tour we sat in tall Victorian chairs and drank coffee from china cups, listening to a piano that played itself.

By the end there was nothing to do but thank my tour guide profusely with bows and smiles. I told my friend to give my regards to his wife as I waved goodbye, leaving, as I had come, by the repair floors's service entrance, cluttered with the springs and cogs of miracles.


Anonymous said...

feel free to come on in and check it out anytime. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi I just wanted to send a quick note to let you know I really enjoyed